Will Australia’s ‘miracle economy’ keep on winning?

Image copyright
Getty Images

It was the year Australia went to war in the Gulf, when Monica Seles and Boris Becker won tennis grand slams in Melbourne, and The Simpsons was first shown on Aussie television, while a swooning Bryan Adams was a hit with love-struck teenagers (“Look into your heart, baby”).

It was 1991, and the last time Australia tasted the bitter economic taste of recession, defined in these parts, at least, as two or more back-to-back quarters of negative growth in real gross domestic product, or the value of all services and goods.

Since then, Australia has sidestepped the worst effects of the Asian financial crisis in 1997 and its more destructive big brother that hammered global markets a decade or so later.

Australia’s economy – the “wonder down under” – has somehow dodged the unstoppable forces that sent other wealthy countries tumbling into reverse.

For this, a nation of 24 million people must thank not only sound judgement by those in charge but also good fortune, according to Shane Oliver, chief economist at financial services company AMP in Sydney.

“I certainly don’t see Australia as being a miracle,” he says. “It has had a bit of good luck and good management, but it would be dangerous to assume that it is never going to have a recession again.”

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Coal production helped the Australian economy stay afloat

The economy is growing by about 1.9% per year, according to the Reserve Bank. In 2012, that figure was 3.7%. Weaker growth means that pay packets are shrinking for many workers when adjusted for the rising cost of living, and near-record levels of underemployment are stifling wage increases.

In August, retail sales posted their biggest retreat in about four-and-a-half years, falling by 0.6%, with cafes and restaurants reporting declining turnovers.

Period of transition?

Rocks, coal and demand from China insulated this country from the global financial meltdown in 2008, as a red-hot mining industry delivered unprecedented wealth.

Surging commodity prices fuelled the bonanza in Western Australia and Queensland, which propped up under-performing states in the south-east, where most Australians live.

Shane Oliver says the situation has now “been turned on its head” and Australia is once again in transition.

The mining boom has faded, but areas that once struggled have bounced back in part because of record low interest rates that have unleashed a frenzy into the housing market.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Meanwhile, eye-watering wads of public money have poured into infrastructure projects, which are redefining parts of New South Wales, the most populous state.

There was another critical factor that helped Australia to largely avoid the ravages of the global financial crisis – unprecedented spending by the Labor government that boosted public expenditure by a whopping 13% in an attempt to stimulate growth.

It was a classic Keynesian economic manoeuvre to use billions of dollars to sustain household spending, demand and employment.

Australia loves to win. Here international cricket matches are akin to “wars” and Olympic gold medals – or a lack thereof – are greeted with congratulatory back-slapping – or hand-wringing.

If there was a podium for economic success, this is a country that would be bending forward to accept the award. More than 25 years of uninterrupted growth is a remarkable achievement, although there is debate about the competition.

  • Australian economy has been recession-free for 25 years

Some commentators believe the recent economic prosperity enjoyed by the Netherlands lasted for (only) 22 years, putting it firmly into silver medal position behind the Aussies.

Right place, right time

Tim Harcourt, an economics fellow at the University of New South Wales, believes Australia deserves the plaudits.

“This time the ‘lucky country’ made its own luck.

“The Hawke-Keating [government] reforms of the 1980s and 1990s – the currency float, tariff changes, and embrace of Asia – set up us up for a quarter of a century of growth.

“Australia found itself in the right place at the right time and embraced the Asia century,” he argues.

Image copyright
Getty Images

But as the economy has soared, some Australians have been left behind. At almost 13%, youth unemployment is more than twice the national average.

Labouring work had left 21-year-old Mohammad Al-Khafaji, the son of an Iranian refugee, with endless back pain and homelessness soon followed.

“I was just trying to apply for jobs online, and then people were just putting me down saying ‘you are never going to get that job’, so I just stopped trying,” he says.

‘Muddling along’

Mohammad is now employed by a hire car company in Sydney, and has ambitions to one day be the boss.

He works with Shiv Dhingra, an Indian migrant from Punjab. They are proof that much of Australia’s economic might is down to immigration.

“I am the only one working in my family,” Shiv explained. “I am the main financial support they have. I am working seven days a week for the last year. I’ve got plans for my own business.”

Image copyright
Charity Bounce

Image caption

Charity Bounce runs sessions in partnership with professional athletes

Both young men were helped by Charity Bounce, a Sydney-based non-profit organisation that uses basketball to reach out to the disadvantaged and long-term unemployed, who, according to chief executive, Ian Heininger, also deserve a slice of Australia’s prosperity.

“We find a lot of the young people are desperate to find work,” he says, “desperate to find an opportunity that is going to get them into a place where they are contributing back to the world.”

But will they be part of an ever-expanding economy? Mr Oliver thinks Australia’s luck will eventually run out, but not for a while.

“The Aussie economy is probably going to continue muddling along, not fantastically strong as housing slows and consumer spending remains a bit weak,” he predicts.

“We are probably going to go for at least another few years before we have that recession some people say is inevitable.”

Source : [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-australia-41643147

How can you help your local online business go global?

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Online shopping has become a $2.3tn global business

In 1995, someone sold a broken laser pen for $14 on a site called AuctionWeb. This was the rather inauspicious start for online shopping, an activity that now generates a colossal $2.3tn (£1.75tn) in global sales.

But these days, shoppers want to pay in any number of ways and this can cause headaches for retailers wanting to expand abroad; so what should they do?

Nigel Whiteoak is the co-founder of LoveCrafts, a virtual hub for knitting and crochet enthusiasts to share their creations and buy supplies.

Having a website rather than a bricks-and-mortar shop meant the team could sell their wares to the world. But taking payments for these international sales wasn’t proving straightforward.

“One of the biggest realisations we had when looking to expand was that credit card penetration is generally much lower in most markets outside the UK and US,” he explains.

“In Germany, open invoices are very common where you process the payment using a third party, deliver the goods directly to the customer, and then they pay that third party once we have delivered their crafts.

Image copyright
LoveCrafts

Image caption

LoveCrafts founder Nigel Whiteoak says selling abroad has significantly boosted sales

“Whereas in Brazil and Turkey they tend to use local credit cards and pay in instalments.”

These regional quirks were difficult to cater for.

But then he came across a Dutch payment company, Adyen, whose payment processing platform harnesses machine learning to customise the payment method depending on which country the buyer is in.

Adyen’s clients include heavyweights such as Netflix, Uber and Spotify, so Mr Whiteoak was surprised to find out how affordable its service was, with a minimum monthly invoice of $100 (£75) and transparent per-transaction processing and commission charges.

“Before we started selling outside of the UK we had a turnover of around £6.5m,” he says. “Last year we posted 10.9 million, and with the bulk of our sales coming from overseas, this growth is directly linked to our ability to offer local payment methods.”

Sales have grown 125% over the last three years, he says, proving that knitting and crochet is big business.

Image copyright
LoveCrafts

Image caption

LoveCrafts has found that people in different countries like to pay in different ways

Payment difficulties contribute to about 15% of online shoppers abandoning their virtual shopping baskets before completing the purchase, research suggests. That and difficult-to-navigate, fiddly websites.

Research from Barclaycard finds that while customers demand faster, more innovative and mobile-friendly ways to pay, the reality is one of declined cards, verification delays and annoying hidden transaction fees.

“Remove the need for consumers to set up an account first,” advises Greg Liset, Barclaycard’s head of small business, “and partner with suppliers that have reliable payment systems that work first time.

“Also, with online cross-border sales expected to soar over the next few years, being able to offer multiple currencies is essential.”

Knowing what payment options locals prefer is crucial to e-commerce success.

Research from 2Checkout finds that in the US, Visa, MasterCard, PayPal and American Express still dominate the payments landscape.

But in other countries different favourite payment methods have emerged. For example, in China Alipay now accounts for 54% of online sales. In the Netherlands the iDEAL payment system is used for 44% of sales. In Japan, JCB and Konbini are popular.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Shoppers in different countries have their own favourite ways of paying

But in India many shoppers still prefer paying in cash. So Indian start-up BookMyTrain is aiming to simplify the online purchase of rail tickets by offering a cash-on-delivery payment option with its app, as many people in India don’t have payment cards.

It is also using chatbots to take customers through the booking process one step at a time.

Simon Johnson, general manager at software provider Freshworks, the firm providing the chatbots for BookMyTrain, says: “Most customers today use messaging apps such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger because they like how you can keep a conversation going with whatever device they are using.

“You don’t have to be a massive company to personalise the experience more effectively and [smaller] retailers need to have that personal touch to compete with big e-commerce players.”

Other payment platforms besides Adyen helping online retailers sell globally with tailored experiences include 2Checkout (formerly Avangate), PayU, PayPal, Stripe and Braintree.

More Technology of Business

Image copyright
Getty Images

Costs are usually transparent and related to sales volume. With PayPal, for example, retailers can expect to pay 2.9 % of the transaction value plus about 23p per order. Similarly, Stripe doesn’t charge extra for accommodating different cards or currencies with a flat rate of 1.4% plus 20p per transaction.

But selling abroad isn’t just about offering flexibility over ways to pay and support for multiple currencies, it’s also about understanding local customs and cultures, argues Nir Debbi, co-founder of e-commerce platform Global-e.

“A common pitfall for businesses marketing themselves abroad is a lack of awareness of the different cultural phenomena,” says Mr Debbi.

Planning for international shopping events such as Singles Day in China or Japan’s “lucky shopping bags” at New Year “can improve international conversion rates dramatically”, he says, “but you need the insight, local knowledge and access to these sales peaks to be able to plan and apply an appropriate strategy.”

Later in this e-commerce series we’ll explore the best ways for online businesses to market themselves.

  • Follow Technology of Business editor Matthew Wall on Twitter and Facebook
  • Click here for more Technology of Business features

Source : [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41669030

Milwaukee Bucks aim to bounce back on and off NBA court

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

The Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo is an emerging star in the NBA

What has historically made Milwaukee famous has been its beer and its motorcycles, but now NBA basketball side, the Bucks, is also hoping to fly the flag for the US city.

Although the team situated on the western shore of Lake Michigan has picked up just one NBA national title, in 1971, in its 50th season it is now hoping to transform its fortunes.

The club has wealthy owners in the shape of New York hedge fund billionaires, and has one of the top young players in Giannis Antetokounmpo.

It has also signed a groundbreaking shirt sponsorship deal with Harley-Davidson, and as the current regular season gets under way it is moving into a new stadium.

As well as being specifically designed for basketball and offering a better fan experience, the Wisconsin Entertainment and Sports Center stadium will also host music and entertainment events.

And the playing season has got off to a bright start, with victory in the opening game over Boston Celtics.

Championship dream

“Our aims are sporting and financial,” Bucks president Peter Feigin, who has previously worked in the theme park and executive jet industries, tells me.

Image copyright
Milwaukee Bucks

Image caption

The Wisconsin Entertainment and Sports Center stadium is due to open in August 2018

“Our owners are very motivated about the team winning on the court, and also about growing the business to be one of the best in US sport.”

At present the club is closer to breaking-even financially rather than making a profit, but it is hoped playing success can bring wider brand exposure and enhanced commercial revenues.

Meanwhile, the new venue where the club will be the main leaseholder will also bring in increased match day income through executive boxes and improved catering.

The team has high hopes for the season ahead.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

The Milwaukee Bucks (green) won their opening match against the Boston Celtics 108-100

“There are four rounds of play-offs, we got to the first round last year and the expectation is to go at least one round better this time,” says Mr Feigin, a former head of marketing for the New York Knicks NBA team.

“It is achievable – we are in the Eastern Division, which is not as strong as the Western Division, and if we are healthy for the season and have no injuries we will do great.”

He adds: “We are in these games to win a championship; it is all directed towards ultimately winning a championship.”

‘International appeal’

Central to any playing success is up-and-coming star Giannis Antetokounmpo, a 22-year-old born in Athens to Nigerian immigrant parents.

“We have the most-emerging star in the NBA, he is already in the top seven of uniform sales, and had tens of millions of video views,” says Mr Feigin. “He has gone from ‘recognised’ to superstar in less than 12 months.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Giannis Antetokounmpo sports a shirt with the fans’ chant: Fear the deer

“We have been able to grow our European appeal and our Asian appeal via Giannis.”

And the potentially exciting nature of the team has seen the Bucks double the number of live TV games they will be involved in this season, from nine to 18.

“That will be big for us not only on viewing impressions, but big for the brand too,” adds Mr Feigin, who prior to joining the Bucks three years ago worked for Six Flags Theme Parks in the US.

He was also previously president and chief operating officer of Marquis Jet, where he was the driving force behind Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway’s NetJets acquisition of Marquis in 2010.

Image copyright
Milwaukee Bucks

Image caption

NBA rules allow teams to sign shirt sponsors for three years

Mr Feigin says Milwaukee as at a city is at an “inflection point” between its industrial heritage past and a newly-modernised future, something which also applies to its shirt sponsors for the next three years – local motorbike brand Harley-Davidson.

“Harley are trying to reposition themselves for the next generations, and the NBA can help them do that,” he says. “They want to reach a young, diverse, more international market.”

Public funding

Mr Feigin has been in London this month meeting to publicise the new stadium, pitching it as “a must-play for sports and entertainment” which will host 200 major events a year.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Post-industrial Milwaukee is in the midst of regeneration

The $524m (£395m) arena is a public-private partnership, with just over half the cash coming from hedge-fund club owners Marc Lasry, Wes Edens and Jamie Dinan, as well as $250m in public funding.

“It was very challenging to get this approved; especially at at time when there have been questions about the economy, and debates around healthcare and education,” admits Mr Feigin.

“But a professional sports team can bring in much more than the stadium outlay, through income tax and sales tax.”

Image copyright
Alamy

Image caption

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led Milwaukee to their only title success in 1971

He says in return for that $250m outlay, the venue will help bring in more than $1bn over 15 years for the state.

“The stadium will also create a ripple effect in increasing nearby commercial and residential values,” he adds.

Bucks season-ticket holders and members will be offered deals on entertainment tickets. Conversely, it’s hoped music fans will enjoy the stadium experience enough to come back for a Bucks game.

Naming rights

Building work began on the new stadium last June, with the club due to move into its new home on Labor Day weekend next year – the first weekend of September.

“The current venue was not built around basketball as the lead sport, but for ice hockey,” says Raj Saha, the arena’s general manager, and formerly on the management team of the O2 in London.

Image caption

Mr Feigin and Mr Saha have been in London to get support for the new stadium

“The viewing sight lines where we currently play are not ideal for basketball,” says Mr Saha, with only one third of the seats close to the action.

The club is looking for six to eight long-term founding commercial partners for the new stadium, paying around $2m a year. Those who have signed up include multi-industrial firm Johnson Controls and bank BMO Harris.

The search is on for a stadium naming rights partner, which would pay about $7m a year for 20 years.

“We are still looking for a naming rights partner. We would have loved to have finalised it by now but are in negotiations with a number of potential partners,” says Mr Saha.

Image copyright
Populous

Image caption

The new stadium will host a variety of non-basketball entertainment

As well as music acts, the arena will also host attractions such as UFC martial arts, boxing, Disney on Ice, and other events.

“We have an idea of how the first four weeks will look,” says Mr Saha.

“Opening night is important and we’ll go big for that, but the first 100 days will also be very important, too, to creating a success story.”

Source : [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41481040

The Chinese blockage in the global waste disposal system

Image copyright
European Photopress Agency

Image caption

In Hong Kong, 2,500 tonnes of waste paper are piling up at its docks every day

Imagine the world as a global waste disposal system. Now imagine it with a blockage.

And what if that waste is backing up around the world, reappearing in places where you really don’t want it to be.

That blockage is about to happen in China and the flood is going to start seeping out into waste disposal operations around the world.

Three months ago, China decided to ban 24 different grades of rubbish as part of its “National Sword” campaign against foreign garbage.

Until now China has been importing millions of tonnes of the world’s waste every year to feed its recycling industry.

The Bureau of International Recycling China estimates that China last year imported 7.3 million tonnes of plastic scrap from Europe, Japan and USA, and 27 million tonnes of waste paper.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

China’s action in halting various categories of waste imports will hit recycling around the world

Robin Wiener, president of the US-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, said: “More than 155,000 direct jobs are supported by the US industry’s export activities, earning an average wage of almost $76,000 and contributing more than $3bn to federal, state, and local taxes.

“A ban on imports of scrap commodities into China would be catastrophic to the recycling industry.”

The new restrictions have yet to be agreed by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and China could still change its mind, but the waste is already starting to back up.

In Hong Kong, 2,500 tonnes of waste paper are piling up at its docks every day.

Easy option

For China the problem is simply one of pollution. Its submission to the WTO reads: “We found that large amounts of dirty wastes or even hazardous wastes are mixed in the solid waste that can be used as raw materials. This polluted China’s environment seriously.”

Image copyright
Jamie Robertson

Image caption

Mike Baxter says sending waste overseas was the easy option

Western recyclers admit that China has been a cheap and easy waste bin for their industry. In theory the rubbish from your recycling rubbish bin is meant to be treated or sorted before it goes in the container overseas, but the rules have too often been ignored and rarely enforced.

Mike Baxter, external affairs director at the recycler RPC Group, says: “The easiest option for years has been put it into a container and send it overseas where the labour is cheaper and it can be sorted by hand.”

But with the ban expected to come into full effect by the new year, if not before, the UK industry has written urging the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to help with the expected overflow.

Even so, Robin Latchem, editor of the recycling industry magazine MRW believes the recyclers are not spelling out the problems loudly enough, and says: “Why no mention of growing domestic stockpiles of waste and the danger of more fires or incidents of waste crime?

“I don’t think it is scare-mongering to set out such fears, along with concern that public perception of the recycling industry in its widest sense will be heavily scarred by greater fly-tipping, larger-scale dumping and more plumes of heavy black smoke crossing housing estates.”

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Western recyclers admit that China has been a cheap and easy waste bin for their industry

No minister from Defra was available for comment, but a spokesman told the BBC: “We are aware of this situation and are looking into the potential implications.”

Opportunities

But there is flip side to the problem – an opportunity for the recycling industry.

In the UK for example, a lot of the waste is high quality, such as off-cuts from plastic manufacturing and plastic bottles that have failed quality tests but can be reprocessed.

That presents “a great opportunity”, says David Wilson commercial manager of Vanden Recycling, a Hong Kong-based company with a new plastics recycling operation in Peterborough, in the UK.

“China has voluntarily given up a six million tonne a year industry. We’ll be selective about it and we’ll go for materials we understand and markets we understand, but some of that lost capacity will be rebuilt here,” he says.

Image copyright
Jamie Robertson

Image caption

Vanden Recycling’s David Wilson says the China ban creates new opportunities

Low quality waste is a different matter, however, and it requires some drastic rethinking of the whole supply chain.

As waste begins to back up through the system, like any commodity in oversupply, it loses value. In the UK, for example, local authorities have been able to generate useful income from selling that waste on to the recyclers. That income is going to fall sharply.

Andrew Bird, chairman of the UK’s Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) says as demand from China disappears, other markets are emerging, especially in India and wider Asia. Nevertheless, “there is going to be a little bit of pinch point, to say the least, and that will have an effect on price – that’s the biggest risk for local authorities”.

New technologies

One answer to tackling the global oversupply of low quality waste is the development of new technologies.

Recycling Technologies has developed a method of recycling the most unappetising mix of dirty plastic into something it calls Plaxx, a fuel oil which can be used for myriad applications, including as a source for new recycled plastic.

Image copyright
Jamie Robertson

Image caption

Adopting new technologies is one long-term solution, says Adrian Griffiths

Adrian Griffiths, the company’s chief executive, admits there’s no shortage of “feedstock” – the term for all the raw material that feeds the process.

“We chemically recycle plastic. We take it back to the original material so it can become more plastic again: plastic, back to oil, and back to plastic again. Anything that goes to landfill currently is feedstock for us, and since the recycling figures are so low the vast majority of the plastic we want is not in recycling use anyway.”

Global Trade

More from the BBC’s series taking an international perspective on trade:

But tackling the global back-up of waste after China’s changes will require investment.

Surprisingly, it is waste paper recycling that can cost the most. A plastics recycling plant could require a £5m ($6.5m) investment to get it up and running, says Simon Ellin, chief executive of the Recycling Association. But a paper mill could cost up to £500m.

However, RCP’s Mr Baxter says investors are not going to step in unless there is a market for recycled goods, and he believes governments have a role to play.

“It’s not just a case of recycling the material. It’s having markets for the recyclates that are produced, and this is where government could come in.” In the UK, he would like to see the government push local authorities and all government institutions to purchase recycled products.

For Mr Bird, from LARAC, responsibility for tackling the long term problems of waste must lie throughout the global product supply chain, but especially with manufacturers.

And he says one particular change could have a dramatic effect – the widespread adoption of Extended Producers’ Responsibility.

“It means producers having to pay to ensure the products they are manufacturing can be dealt with in an effective, and environmentally cost-effective way.”

Meanwhile, the waste is piling up and the clock is ticking.

Listen to Jamie Robertson’s report on China’s ban on waste imports here on BBC World Service’s World Business Report programme.

Source : [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41582924

From torture victim to human rights student

Image caption

Noura Al Jizawi has come to study in Toronto after escaping Syria’s civil war

Noura Al Jizawi has survived more than a decade of extreme risk. Now she’s going back to her interrupted life as a student.

Growing up in Homs in Syria, the 29 year old has been a student activist, experienced imprisonment and exile and has been a leader in Syria’s opposition.

Now eight months pregnant, she has gone back to her studies, beginning a master’s degree at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs.

Noura’s first awareness of human rights – and of their absence – came early: “I remember when I was just a kid, I was angry because we couldn’t choose our notebooks.

“We could have only one type of notebook – one with a photo of Assad’s father on it.”

Missing persons

She soon learned that other, much worse things were wrong with her country.

Image copyright
Reuters

Image caption

Homs this summer showing the damage of war

“Many of the students, a couple of years older than me, were mentioning their missing fathers. I became aware we had missing persons in Syria.

“While I was growing up, I remember hearing mothers supporting each other… they were the mothers of missing persons.

“Those guys were the detainees arrested by Assad’s father in the 1980s. Some of them are still until this moment missing … there were no bodies, there was nothing, just silence.”

Activism and arrests

Noura came up against the regime as an undergraduate at the University of Homs – and reading books such as George Orwell’s Animal Farm chimed deeply with her own experience.

More from Global education

Ideas for the Global education series? Get in touch.

Noura’s increasing activism, her work as a blogger, publishing imaginative allegorical fiction, and her readiness to speak out, led to two early arrests.

Nevertheless she continued this dangerous work, accessing forbidden websites to distribute anti-regime articles, disseminating ideas of democracy and non-violent protest.

“We never believed there would be a real revolution in our lifetimes,” she said.

And then, in December 2010, the Arab Spring began in Tunisia, and spread rapidly, arriving in Syria with a demonstration in Damascus in March 2011.

Image copyright
Reuters

Image caption

A mother in Homs with a locket of her lost son

“For me it was like a dream. We have a revolution.” Noura was still in Homs, but was in touch with activists around the country, and abroad.

She became an organiser of demonstrations and an advocate for the rapidly rising numbers of detainees.

Social media

In the response that followed, many of her friends were killed, many others imprisoned and tortured.

“To be honest we were not shocked, we knew too well that this regime would not allow people to demand their rights.”

They were more shocked, she said, by the lack of any effective response from the international community.

“We were saying, back in the 70s and 80s, when there were great massacres in Syria, there was no internet, there no media channels.

“But we thought, now we have the social media channels, hopefully this would protect us. But it did not protect us.”

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Noura’s young life has been against a background of war: A fighter in Homs

Noura moved from city to city, organising, motivating, dodging the authorities – until in May 2012, she was ordered off a bus in Damascus by armed men and bundled into a car.

“It was not an arrest, it was abduction, a kidnapping,” she said.

Tortured in prison

Noura emerged seven months later. During that time she was detained in some of Syria’s most notorious prisons, and said she had been tortured with electric shocks and beatings.

She plays this down, saying that so many have endured – and are still enduring – far worse.

For her the hardest experience to bear was hearing the sounds of her fellow-prisoners being tortured. Her captors realised this psychological torture would be more effective in her case – but still she remained silent.

Noura explained how she survived: “I was not afraid for myself, I didn’t care about myself… I cared only about the revolution… I cared about the people who were still continuing this revolution outside.”

Image copyright
Reuters

Image caption

Homs this summer showing the damage of war

“We were still a non-violent movement on the ground… and I kept thinking about them… I wanted to make sure that in the questioning I would not speak about any one of those activists. I would pray to my body not to break down.”

Noura was released late in 2012, and believes that an international campaign played a part in this: “For sure, all of those activities protected me. That is why we need this advocacy, all the time, for all detainees and for missing persons.”

For Noura, the torment continued, as her younger sister, Alaa, had also been imprisoned and was suffering even worse: “They tortured her harder than me, many times, because of me.”

Alaa was released in a terrible physical state; the family decided they had to leave Syria, and fled to Turkey to get urgent medical treatment.

“She was my only reason to leave Syria,” said Noura. “Otherwise I would still be there.”

Image caption

Noura became a representative in peace talks in Geneva

In four years of exile in Turkey, she joined the coalition of Syrian opposition forces, (SNC) and became its vice-president in 2014, as well as being elected to sit on its negotiation panel in Geneva.

She joined because she realised this much-criticised group of mainly male, middle-aged “hotel revolutionaries” needed “the blood of youth” and also a strong female voice.

Geneva was a real challenge for Noura: “I felt I had to be calm and clever, I had do everything I could do, to interact.”

She worked hard to get an agreement to break the two-year siege of Homs. Many of its surviving citizens were dying of starvation.

‘Scholars at risk’

Noura resigned from the coalition in 2016, but continued working for an NGO she had created, Start Point, which provides advocacy and psychological support to Syrian women who have suffered torture and sexual violence in detention.

She had also met her husband in Turkey, another Syrian activist in exile, who was one of a network of cyber-security experts working for the Munk School’s Citizen Lab; hence the Toronto connection.

Noura came to Canada as one of 24 international students with scholarships in the university’s “scholars at risk” programme.

With her daughter due to be born next month, Noura is aware of how this might change her activism. But she’s determined not to give up the fight.

She sees the master’s degree as another step to help her continue her work to bring democracy to Syria.

“I feel also that being a mother makes me closer to the future… this baby is the future, and maybe will not have to live as our generation live.”

Source : [1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41639458